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Is the Caribbean about to realise its renewable energy potential?

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caribbean island by James Willamor via flickr

The Caribbean is one of the world’s largest untapped sources of renewable energy, with huge solar, wind, geothermal and marine energy potential. Despite this, most Caribbean nations still use imported diesel or oil to generate more than 90% of their energy.

International bodies have long complained that Caribbean countries aren’t doing enough to reduce their fossil fuel consumption. So what has been the barrier to using renewables? Often, the answer relates to cost.

Why has the Caribbean been slow to realise its potential?

The Caribbean’s small economies mean that in most cases countries have difficulty financing renewable energy projects that require high upfront capital. For example, a typical waste-to-energy project could cost upwards of $400 million. The costs for a utility scale wind turbine range from about $1.3 million to $2.2 million per MW of capacity.

Although public investment agencies like OPIC or the World Bank may seem to be a viable finance partner for some of these types of projects, their approval processes tend to be long and arduous.

At the same time, fossil fuels continue to prove favourable across the Caribbean Community. Since 2005, the Petrocaribe oil supply agreement signed between Venezuela and 17 Caribbean members has provided for subsidised oil imports across the region.

But now, many are questioning the ongoing viability of Venezuela’s costly oil giveaways. A breakdown of the Petrocaribe agreement could dry up the flow of cheap oil and leave Caribbean countries exposed to rising oil prices in the future.

Is all that about to change?

Recognising the potential for geothermal energy on the island, the government of Dominica recently set aside $15 million for the development of a long-awaited geothermal project. According to projections, as much as 1000 MW could be harnessed by this method in the future.

Officials announced last month that the country is going it alone with its geothermal project, and plans—once the geothermal plant is operational—to offer shares to the Dominican public. The government plans to dispose of as much as forty to fifty percent of its ownership in the geothermal plant.

It’s not such a risk as it seems: Dominica boasts one of the most popular citizenship by investment programmes, granting high net worth individuals a second island passport in exchange for a minimum contribution of $100,000 to a government fund. The fund finances various projects in Dominica for the benefit of its many industries, including tourism, agriculture and alternative energy.

Are others likely to follow suit?

“Successful geothermal development can positively impact energy security within the Eastern Caribbean Community, indeed within the wider Caribbean Community,” said St Kitts and Nevis Prime Minister Dr Timothy Harris. “This is a watershed for a transformed energy future that delivers affordable, reliable, sustainable and clean energy to the citizens of the Caribbean region.”

The twin islands have had success with geothermal exploration, and the government is looking toward the construction of a geothermal power plant in Nevis as the next step in a decade-long project to pursue renewable energy. Meanwhile, the expansion of Jamaica’s wind farm is under way. The country plans to increase renewable energy use further, with a goal to reach 20% by 2030 as part of its Vision 2030 policy.

Barbados, too, is keen to expand the success of solar water heaters to solar photovoltaic generation with the introduction of their Renewable Energy Rider. This allows people installing solar photovoltaics to sell their power back to the grid at 1.6 times the usual charge. As a result of this incentive, there are now more than 300 house-top photovoltaic systems on the island. Barbados has set itself an ambitious goal of 29% of energy to be produced from renewable sources by 2029.

Where is all this coming from?

International agencies are making serious headway in funding renewable energy projects in the Caribbean. In 2015 the Inter-American Development Bank announced $71.5 million in joint-funding for sustainable energy facilities in the Eastern Caribbean, while other money comes from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) and the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD).

But it’s not only international sponsorship driving such projects: there’s further thanks owed to private enterprise. Sir Richard Branson’s Carbon War Room and Ten Island Challenge program is working with governments in selected Caribbean states to offer policy support to help propel clean energy alternatives. A number of smaller scale projects are underway that give rise to this optimism, and some larger projects are in development that may pave the way for a new business model for the region that will see widespread utility level applications.

 

Energy

Are the UK Governments Plans for the Energy Sector Smart?

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The revolution in the energy sector marches on, wind turbines and solar panels are harnessing more renewable energy than ever before – so where is it all leading?

The UK government have recently announced plans to modernise the way we produce, store and use electricity. And, if realised, the plans could be just the thing to bring the energy sector in line with 21st century technology and ideologies.

Central to the plans is an initiative that will see smart meters installed in homes and businesses the length and breadth of the country – and their aim? To create an environment where electricity can be managed more efficiently.

The news has prompted some speculation about how energy suppliers will react and many are predicting a price war. This could benefit consumers of electricity and investors, many of whom may be looking to make a profit by trading energy company shares online using platforms such as Oanda – but the potential for good news doesn’t end there.

Introducing New Technology

The plan, titled Smart Systems and Flexibility is being rolled out in the hope that it will have a positive impact in three core areas.

  • To offer consumers greater control by making smart meters available for all homes and businesses by 2020. Energy users will be able to monitor, control and record the amount of energy they use.
  • Incentivise energy suppliers to change the manner in which they buy electricity, to offer more smart tariffs and more off-peak periods for energy consumption.
  • Introduce new standards for electrical appliances – it is hoped that the new wave of appliances will recognise when electricity is at its cheapest and at its most expensive and respond accordingly.

How the Plans Will Affect Solar Energy

Around 7 million houses in the UK have solar panels and the government say that their plan will benefit them as they will be able to store electricity on batteries. The stored energy can then be used by the household and excess energy can be exported to the national grid – in this instance lower tariffs or even payment for the excess energy will bring down annual costs significantly.

The rate of return on energy exported to the national grid is currently between 6% and 10%, but there are many variables to take into account, such as, the cost of battery storage and light levels. Still, those with state-of-the-art solar electricity systems could end up with an annual profit after selling their excess energy.

The Internet of Things

Much of what the plans set out to achieve are linked to the now ubiquitous “internet of things” – where, for example, appliances and heating systems are connected to the internet in order to make them function more smartly.

Companies like Hive have already made great inroads into this type of technology, but the road that the government plans are heading down, will, potentially, go much further -blockchain technology looms and has already proved to be a game changer in the world of currency.

Blockchain Technology

It has already been suggested that the peer to peer selling of energy and exporting it to the national grid may eventually be done using blockchain technology.

“The blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger of economic transactions that can be programmed to record not just financial transactions but virtually everything of value.”

Don and Alex Tapscott, Blockchain Revolution (2016)

The upshot of the government’s plans for the revolution of the energy sector, is that technology will play an indelible role in making it more efficient, more flexible and ultimately more sustainable.

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Energy

4 Case Studies on the Benefits of Solar Energy

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Demand for solar energy is growing at a surprising rate. New figures from SolarPower Europe show that solar energy production has risen 50% since the summer of 2016.

However, many people are still skeptical of the benefits of solar energy.Does it actually make a significant reduction in our carbon footprint? Is it actually cost-effective for the company over the long-run?

A number of case studies have been conducted, which indicate solar energy can be enormously beneficial. Here are some of the most compelling studies on the subject.

1.     Boulder Nissan

When you think of companies that leverage solar power, car dealerships probably aren’t the first ones that come to mind. However, Boulder Nissan is highly committed to promoting green energy. They worked with Independent Power Systems to setup a number of solar cells. Here were the results:

  • Boulder Nissan has reduced coal generated electricity by 65%.
  • They are on track to run on 100% renewable energy within the next 13 years.
  • Boulder Nissan reduced CO2 emissions by 416,000 lbs. within the first year after installing their solar panels.

This is one of the most impressive solar energy case studies a small business has published in recent years. It shows that even small companies in rural communities can make a major difference by adapting solar energy.

2.     Valley Electric Association

In 2015, the Valley Electric Association (VEA) created an 80-acre solar garden. Before retiring from the legislature, U.S. Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid praised the new project as a way to make the state more energy dependent and reduce our carbon footprint.

“This facility will provide its customers with the opportunity to purchase 100 percent of their electricity from clean energy produced in Nevada,” Reid told reporters with the Pahrump Valley Times. “That’s a step forward for the Silver State, but it also proves that utilities can work with customers to provide clean renewable energy that they demand.”

The solar energy that VEA produced was drastically higher than anyone would have predicted. SolarWorld estimates that the solar garden created 32,680,000 kwh every year, which was enough to power nearly 4,000 homes.

This was a major undertaking for a purple state, which may inspire their peers throughout the Midwest to develop solar gardens of their own. It will reduce dependency on the electric grid, which is a problem for many remote states in the central part of the country.

3.     Las Vegas Casinos

A number of Las Vegas casinos have started investing in solar panels over the last couple of years. The Guardian reports that many of these casinos have cut costs considerably. Some of them are even selling the energy back to the grid.

“It’s no accident that we put the array on top of a conference center. This is good business for us,” Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts told Guardian reporters. “We are looking at leaving the power system, and one of the reasons for that is we can procure more renewable energy on the open market.”

There have been many benefits for casinos using solar energy. They are some of the most energy-intensive institutions in the world, so this has helped them become much more cost-effective. It also helps minimize disruptions to their customers learning online keno strategies in the event of any problems with the electric grid.

4.     Boston College

Boston College has been committed to many green initiatives over the years. A group of researchers experimented with solar cells on different parts of the campus to see where they could produce the most electricity. They discovered that the best locationwas at St. Clement’sHall. The solar cells there dramatically. It would also reduce CO2 emissions by 521,702 lbs. a year and be enough to save 10,869 trees.

Boston College is exploring new ways to expand their usage of solar cells. They may be able to invest in more effective solar panels that can generate far more solar energy.

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